Styles of Rock Climbing

Bouldering

As you might guess, “bouldering” is the type of rock climbing usually done on boulders—or on short gym walls, usually no taller than 10–15+ feet. Because of the low height of the rocks/ walls, climbers usually only require crash pads (see Climbing Gear) for protective gear. Ropes are almost never necessary to climb a boulder problem, unless it’s a real high-ball (see Climbing Wall Descriptors).  

(Boulder) Problem

This is the actual thing you climb on a boulder: a series of hand holds and foot holds that form a path, usually from the bottom to the top. A boulder problem usually follows a natural “line” or weakness on the rock. A boulder can have dozens of problems, just one, or any number in between. In a gym, a boulder problem is series of holds deliberately placed by problem setters, usually marked with the same color of tape.

We Call Him Michael, Joe's Valley, Utah; Christine Sjöquist Photo

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is a type of climbing done with ropes. Sport climbs are usually only one pitch in length, and typically have a height of ~40–120 feet. Protection is relatively simple in sport climbing, and this simplicity allows climbers to focus their energies on the difficulty of the climb rather than the intricacies of protection.

For protection, climbers use ropes, harnesses, belay devices and quickdraws (see Climbing Gear). Sport climbing routes are equipped by pre-placed bolts. As a climber ascends a wall, he/she clips quickdraws to these bolts (which are affixed with special hangers), and clips the rope to the quickdraws. Once at the top of a sport route, the climber lowers off of a permanent, fixed anchor. 

No Redemption, a Sport Climb in Red River Gorge, Kentucky; Eliott Ashe Photo

Trad Climbing (or Traditional Climbing)

Trad climbing is the original form of route-style rock climbing. Traditional routes vary in length, from one pitch up to dozens of pitches. Trad climbs have no (or very few) bolts, and trad climbers must place their own (usually removable) protection in the rock (see Climbing Gear). This protection usually takes the form of chockstone-shaped stoppers, camming units (called “cams”) and other miscellaneous gear. In order to place protection into the rock, climbers usually follow crack lines. Because of the tedious nature of gear placements and the large amount of gear required, climbers typically climb a few grades lower when trad climbing compared to sport climbing.

Unknown Crack at Indian Creek, Utah; Coby Root Photo

Route

Whenever sport or trad climbing, the path of holds you follow—whether in a gym or at an outdoor cliff—is called a route. It's like a boulder problem, only longer.

 


 

Let us know if we’re missing any terms!